TWELVE GOING OVER | 2021-10-14

The idea of bonus tracks in recorded music has always been both an intriguing and polarising one, historically affording somewhat uncalled for opinions coming from a plethora of stakeholders and contributors in the wider music space. Everyone from fans to critics and artists themselves seem to hold moderately loaded mixed bag stances on the notion of bundling non-album cuts as part of deluxe, or expanded, versions of studio LPs. Their modes of employment might just be as varied and versatile as the opinions they go sprout, as both songs originally left on the cutting room floor, as well as alternate versions of tracks included in the main full length tracklist (spearheaded by acoustic and live re-takes), have habitually found themselves getting second lives breathed as part of single B-sides, territorially-bound album versions, celebratory anniversary reissues, and more recently optimised digital streaming economy unit economics.

Despite quite literally ‘not making the cut’ on whatever final incarnation a full body of work translated into, artists old and new (and, crucially, their sly record labels) have long been known to be stoking alternate ways of stitching superfluous bonus tracks on top of some physical or digital variation of packaging for their official projects. English singer/songwriter Sam Fender, who recently unveiled his second studio album Seventeen Going Under on Polydor Records, saw fit to dilute his nominal 11-track album version through five additional records, sequenced on the so-called 16-cut Deluxe version of his critically acclaimed Bramwell Bronte-produced outing. This is per se nothing under the sun new for the 27-year-old North Shields native, who had hitherto widely flirted with both intra-LP-cycles non-album tracks (see 2018’s EP Dead Boys, or singles such as “Millennial“, “Greasy Spoon“, and “Hold Out“) as well as bonus offerings on fully fledged studio LPs (case in point, the live rendition of “Use” on his debut LP Hypersonic Missiles).

However, Fender’s latest curatorial choice in time affords us the weird and wonderful opportunity to decouple the faux-embedded five-track EP stacked across tracks 12 and 16 on top of the sonic gesamtkunstwerk represented by the Seventeen Going Under Deluxe version. Instead of embarking onto the conventional highway of reviewing the real record Sam intended listeners and year end’s list to appraise, we’re shifting gears to zero in on the throwaways; the fat that was supposed to be cut. Starting with the mystically hypnotising glazed tenderness of “Better Of Me“, sequenced at number twelve on the revamped tracklist, a softly blistering cry of monolithic matter-of-fact earnestness espoused with unambitious allegoric poetry: “And I hated you / I was so jealous of your standin’ / And I envied your happy family / Oh, I looked like shit / Stuck in all my vice rotations / Tryna’ find light in every broken soul“. Easily one of Fender’s most out-there ‘experimental’ outings to date, the song dabbles in both sampled loop tapestry and one-dimensional syncopated drumming, to render a bona fide moment of cathartic implosion.

The following careless and lighthearted “Pretending That You’re Dead” is a successful exercise in pure The River-era Springsteen-meets-Smiths worship, complete with unadulterated ‘end of the world’ lyrics and seas of chorus-effected guitar licks that don’t quite seem to want to give the tune any melodic respite. Meanwhile, the sheer forlorn weight of the brilliant “Angel In Lothian” sits at number fourteen on the deluxe project, fiercely distributing heart-wrenching accounts on awarding the number one prize for the most ruthless sabotage to one’s very self: “And I claw at the door every bad night / But somehow it’s blocked from thе other side / I claw ’til my skin comes apart / Until I feel something“. Out of all five bonus tracks making up this crop, this is hands down the one that should have made the official record—both for reasons of focused thematic addressability and watertight musical delivery.

Penultimate offering “Good Company” aptly showcases the barer and starker nuance of the widespread acclaimed heartland rock artist, conveyed through a relatively impressive lullaby-esque handpicked arpeggio, sped up to such an extent where one can’t but admire the awe-inspiring muscular elasticity of the performer’s fingers. Although a tad underdeveloped—lest we forget, these are records Fender did not find worthy of his main course offering—lyrically the song sticks out for its emotional and assertive ambivalence, with Sam caught drowning under the blank bullets of the existential crossfire that comes with some degree of acceptance of the duality of man. If anything, it acts as a necessary wind down from the prior aguishly dense full hour of music, segueing into the conclusive piano-led “Poltergeist“, an introspective ballad pulling the curtains over the roller coasting one-man ethics errands show that just preceded it, with some of the most evocative and poignant vocal passages on the whole record: “I haven’t been the best of men / Morality is an evolving thing / I can blame the times, I can blame the weeks / I can blame the things that we saw as kids / I’m a waster darling, and I’ll tell it straight / With all my failures on a platе / She picks at them and doesn’t chеw / And spits them out for me to view“.

Be it the darlings that were never properly killed, file them under a philosophical approach on the quantum physics notion of God’s particle, or lace them into a Lacan’ian theory of inverse psychoanalysis—some might argue that aside from allowing and affording the true enjoyment of the main musical oeuvre to begin with, Fender’s ‘hidden’ EP within Seventeen Going Under inherently stands as a significantly deserving little project of its own. These renegade cuts, more than ever before in the English act’s still relatively infant discography, stand to signify the wide-reaching and holistic songcraft prowess of one of the UK’s biggest musical prodigal sons. By creating a superalbum of sorts, Fender managed to turn his sophomore full length into a meta ‘project of projects’, simultaneously upholding and defining the curtailing confines of conventional music release formats. Much like Erwing Schrödinger’s cat experiment in quantum mechanics, Seventeen Going Under is both eleven and sixteen tracks long, and its boundless enjoyment (or distaste) ought not be attained in spite of the five extra bonus tracks, but precisely because of the inclusion of the excessive bells and whistles.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

RATHER THAN NEBRASKA, PRESSURE MACHINE IS THE KILLERS’ TUNNEL OF LOVE | 2021-09-10

As first reactions and reviews of The Killers’ seventh studio LP Pressure Machine started to reel in, shortly after the record’s release date in mid August, many a critics and fans were quick to draw uncompromising parallels between said project and Bruce Springsteen‘s Nebraska. One would be doomed to fault them—the creative and spiritual surface-level similitudes between the two albums abound in spades. For starters, both full-lengths sound bare, dour, and austere, and sit adjacently to one of each respective act’s bigger, louder, and more mainstream outings to date—that is, 1984’s Born in the USA for Springsteen and last year’s Imploding the Mirage as far as the Las Vegas quartet is concerned.

Moreover, on a thematic level, apparent bona fide heartland rock and its derived blue-collar sensibilities permeate both projects’ lyrical menageries from cradle to grave, and while this is not anything new for either artist, the executional earnestness and intention of both Nebraska and Pressure Machine are peak career-level for both. Notwithstanding a creative je ne sais quois ethos pledging allegiance to full blown electric arena rock instrumentation as their trademark modus operandi, these two records and their wall-to-wall unplugged, reverberated, and acoustic tapestries seem to stick out like sore thumbs in each artist’s wider discography.

Pernickety and rambunctious thinkpiecers and fact-diggers need little time to push parallels even further, to the point of stressing out how both 1982’s storied Nebraska and this year’s Pressure Machine saw the light of day at the dawn of what would be poised to be a volatile and erratic decade to come: without clear winners or losers, and soaked amidst new technological frontiers enthralling and deranging folks in equal measure. Not to mention the comparisons drawn between both records being—loosely speaking—’concept albums’ about the good, the bad, and the evil of modern ordinary, down-on-their-luck working class anti-heroes, sparing no mention of sins and unredeemable qualities.

Now for the juicy bit, ladies and gentlemen—contrary to public opinion, we instead maintain that rather than Nebraska, Pressure Machine is The Killers’ very own Tunnel of Love, aka the Boss’ cherished eight studio album (1987). We stand to defend such assertion through a multitude of deductions and derivative clues, ranging from face-value chassis to low-level musical dissections and presumptions. At the risk of overthinking and exceedingly intellectualise the creative process engraved at the heart of both albums, we’ll go as far as to unpack each single record sequenced on the Las Vegas quartet’s bundle, and bring forward educated hypotheses as to what their companion spiritual Tunnel of Love pieces are.

Humour us on some documentarist archival trivia first. For Christ’s sake: look no further than the two album’s front covers (reported below) and the evident color scheming and wireframing they share. Would the communal traits start and end here, this would obviously be a non-starter on account of how many other albums sleeves share similar flairs and iconographies. Let us look at both records’ runtimes then—a field of comparison that should win over the curiosity of most. Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love clocks in at exactly 46:25 minutes, while the abridged (i.e. the non-spoken interludes and skits version) duration of Pressure Machine comes eerily close at 46:19 (!). We’re talking negligible differences of a mere six seconds across full length projects featuring twelve and eleven tracks, respectively (Nebraska instead only plays for 40 minutes).

Speaking of which—delving into the collections of songs laced into both LPs, the non-inclusion of the New Jersey prodigal son’s “Ain’t Got You” as part of this pound-for-pound creative appraisal is the sole concession we’re humbly asking from our dear readers, which we’re sure you’ll oblige. With its humorous and faux-bragging a cappella demeanour, coasting atop of a minimalistic and one-dimensional analogue tapestry, not only does the Tunnel of Love sound like a fish out of water amidst the sincerity and heart-on-sleeve vulnerability of the subsequent eleven numbers, but the songwriting at the core of its tune is nothing to write home about either, frankly.

We’ll cut to the chase: Pressure Machine’s first track “West Hills“‘s sombre, waltzy, and granite appeal could easily be equated to “Tougher Than the Rest“, incidentally the opening cut on an analytical Tunnel of Love minus “Ain’t Got You” too. Conversely, the jollier and softer stylistic undertones of subsequent album lead single “Quiet Town” are not too far removed from the incisive impact of Springsteen’s “Brilliant Disguise“, especially as both songs wrestle with darker and more dour lyrical textures juxtaposed to the easier on the ear instrumentation. Meanwhile, the stark and naked acoustic strumming of the unplugged “Terrible Thing” has got to make it Pressure Machine’s very own “Cautious Man“—easily the most bare bone stripped back offering on Tunnel of Love.

Bear with us, as we continue to ask for a certain degree of mental elasticity and artistic openness. Are the vocal cadences, angular sonic dynamics, and overall compositional structures of “Cody” not somewhat reminiscent of those in “Walk Like a Man“? The similitudes here are not the uncanniest under the sun, but they’re definitely there when listening closely enough. Even more striking are the percussive and harmonic parallels between “Sleepwalker” and the title track on the Boss’s album though. Beyond the subtle mutual melodic nods, try to pay specific attention to the rhythmic pockets between 1:09-1:43 on the former and 0:58-1:35 on the latter. Not talking about actual beats and rudiments, but rather grooves, patterns, and tightness.

Elsewhere on Pressure Machine, the Phoebe Bridgers-assisted folklore troubadour lullaby “Runaway Horses” and its shtick would in many ways sit quite at home placed back-to-back to the inflections and cadences heard on “When You’re Alone“, would it not? Moving on from there; absent the just ever so slightly increased BPM rate, track seven on Pressure Machine “In the Car Outside“—undoubtedly one of the stickier and melodically riper tunes this side of the heartland fence—is not necessarily miles away from the gelid synth tapestries, melancholic paratexts, and exaggeratedly lingering instrumental outro similarly sported by “Two Faces“. What we mean is that these two tracks sound like they just shine the same light.

By a similar token, the Las Vegas band’s frontman Brandon Flowers’ verse delivery and intonations on album standout “In Another Life“, sequenced at number eight on Pressure Machine, seem to recall in large parts the auditory rendering of the moral voluptuousness of “All That Heaven Will Allow“—both deep cuts’ unclothed and one-dimensional simplicity underline more than one lowest common denominator. Meanwhile, when decoupled from their apparent musical shells and boiled down to the narrating arc of their inertia-driven linear storytelling ethos, The Killers’ incredible “Desperate Things” (incidentally the most Nebraska-esque Killers helping to date) and Springsteen’s “Spare Parts” ring as if they could have genuinely sprouted from the same writing session.

Next thing we know, we’re nearing the end of Pressure Machine’s side B and runtime as a whole, as a result of our ambitious and pretentious intellectualisation. One could say we reserved the best for last, as The Killers’ gentle, tender, and pretty title track, with its soft and cradling arpeggio and elliptical trajectory, is nothing if not The Boss’ “One Step Up“s legitimate and groomed daughter. Closing number “The Getting By” (NB: clocking in at 5:10) represents the ultimate grand finale of references, both on a musical and empirical level. When paired up with Tunnel of Love’s own curtain call “Valentine’s Day” (NB: 5:12 minutes long), their dialled-down groove and idyllic six-string work are almost too close for comfort, making both tunes mutually interchangeable without impacting either album’s flow.

Listen, we’re in no way suggesting The Killers did this on purpose. We’re fully aware that some of the analogies presented above are more reliable and valid than others. Some of them certainly come off as a bit of a stretch. But most of the facts and figures illustrated above speak for themselves. Forget not, this has got to be seen as part of a creative continuum where musicians are constantly borrowing from each other’s work. Where they’re getting inspired and influenced by previous musical references and artistic milestones. One where they’re often, consciously or unconsciously, paying both tribute and worship to past beacons of theirs. Brandon Flowers and his band are no strangers to admitting to adoring and borrowing from the generous sounds of The Boss: after several albums on which their Nevada glittery gloss lent them a glamorous façade, the pressure of their American songwriting machine finally caught up on them.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

IN DEFENSE OF CHRIS LORD-ALGE’S MIX OF THE REPLACEMENTS’ DON’T TELL A SOUL | 2021-08-15

Minneapolis, MN alternative rock giants The Replacements released seven studio albums during their active lifetime as a band throughout the Eighties. It comes probably as no surprise that the front end of their discography—culminating with their legendary back-to-back triplet that transitioned them onto major label stardom, Let It Be (1984), Tim (1985), and Pleased to Meet Me (1987)—is commonly and widely considered to be their musical and creative apex, by both high and low-brow listeners alike. There is also little denying of the fact that a specular widespread fan consensus over their last two full length outings, 1989’s Don’t Tell a Soul and the following year’s swan song All Shook Down (basically a proto-Paul Westerberg solo helping), is somewhat lukewarm and nothing to write home about, at best.

Here’s the catch: hoarding broad-brush critical agreement never pushed the envelope of stoked human progress. However, speaking of broad brushes, more than revisiting and reclaiming entire parts of The Mats’ overall recorded studio output—which incidentally is completed a raft of additional live albums, compilation bundles, and EPs—this piece looks to rewrite history for on one particular project. Or rather still, its hitherto tainted, jagged, and misunderstood legacy.

Such zeroed-in record answers to the name of the aforementioned Don’t Tell a Soul: an 11-track album initially released on 1st February 1989 on Warner Music’s Sire Records. It’s The Replacements’ sixth, and the first ever featuring lead guitarist Bob “Slim” Dunlap on tape, who was called up in lieu of late and disgraced founding member Bob Stinson in early 1987. Now, before delving irreparably into the nooks and crannies of the argumentation here, at this stage it should probably be mentioned how this album did in actuality fare largely favourably with both music critics and the mainstream at the time.

For Christ’s sake—according to trusted sources including the documentary The Replacements: Color Me Obsessed, Don’t Tell a Soul still stands as the band’s biggest selling LP to date. Which is something that makes a featured thinkpiece set out to defend it and its glossy sound engineering such as this one all the more logically frail. Yet anytime The Replacements, their commitment to self-derangement, and their larger-than-life looming indie lore come into the foray, logic and rationality always kind of seem to default to getting thrown out of a conceptual window.

Remember the raft of additional live albums, compilation bundles, and EPs that help beef up and ornament The Mats’ lauded discography on top of their seven studio LPs? Well, glad you do—for it turns out that one of the most recent issues as part of said catalogue is an ambitious four-disc, 60-track box set filed under the title Dead Man’s Pop. It was earmarked, manufactured, and distributed in 2019 by Rhino Entertainment, under the careful curatorial supervision of the band’s biographer Bob Mehr as well as a slew of syrupy Warner execs. Crucially, the collection’s first disc is entirely comprised of a remixed, re-arranged, and re-sequenced version of Don’t Tell a Soul.

Colloquially dubbed the Don’t Tell a Soul Redux, this overhauled and reimagined collection of tracks both sprouted and harvested from raw session mixes by the album’s original producer (albeit not final mixing engineer) Matt Wallace—who was pretty much a nameless, faceless indie bloke at the time. These stood in sharp contrast to the subsequent major label-endorsed mixing work and production carried out by 80s engineering royalty and multi-Grammy Awards-winning Chris Lord-Alge, whose pedigree and portfolio read like a greatest hits list of names of that decade (Tina Turner, Carly Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna).

Therefore, far from a nostalgic and self-indulgent collector’s item, Dead Man’s Pop’s inherent revisiting flair ended up pulling out all the archival stops, except becoming an actual 30th-year anniversary reissue of Don’t Tell a Soul. For one, it’s completed by a slate of additional bundles, starting with a second disc of rarities and non-album cuts billed We Know the Night: Rare and Unreleased, collating early versions of rough drafts from the group’s Don’t Tell a Soul studio sessions, as well as late-night drunken collaborations recorded with storied singer/songwriter Tom Waits. Two final batches of tracks attached to the box set combine to form a full live album titled The Complete Inconcerated Live, expanding on the quartet’s eponymous 1989 promotional EP.

Now for the aggravating bit, ladies and gentlemen: multiple sources (as well as the horse’s very own mouth) claim that such a rush of new-found curatorial blood to the head was motivated by principal songwriter, co-founder, and creative mastermind Paul Westerberg’s fundamental dissatisfaction with their original product released thirty years ago. A reckoning that translates into the epiphany that Paul himself, bassist Tommy Stinson, stickman Chris Mars, and Slim Dunlap—in addition to countless fans around the globe—had had to coexist and wrestle with such a profound juxtapositional ethos as they looked back on their best selling album for over three decades. Pretty on brand for The Mats, if you ask us. Let that sink in for a moment.

This still leaves us at the mercy of a discursive place acknowledging how the band, its closest entourage, its devoted and diehard fans, as well as most of the critical ivory tower leagues rallied together in solidarity begging for ‘another chance’. They all convened and called for The Replacements to take another stab at the true work of art that lurked beneath Don’t Tell a Soul’s surface level polish and uptight elegance. In this respect, look no further than group’s frontman Paul Westerberg going as far as stating that “[the record] sounded good until the label brought in people to mix it to make it sound like everything else on the radio”. Elsewhere, so Wallace in retrospect: “At the time, when the mixing […] was completed, I had numerous musician friends who were rabid fans of The Replacements and each one […] accused me of ‘ruining The Replacements’”.

Yet again on the other side of this raison d’être inquisition lie folks such as yours truly—evidently allied with hundreds of thousands of disposable income-owners and unit-movers—who are struggling to make heads or tails of such a tardive and, frankly, spoilt creative undoing. This is done while hastily pointing at selected stems (requesting exhibit ”Asking Me Lies“), flat out superior songwriting-to-tape on key tunes (requesting exhibits “They’re Blind” and “Anywhere’s Better Than Here“), a more cohesive overall listen and tracklisting (requesting exhibit “I Won’t“), as well as BVs that actually enhance a composition rather than jeopardise it (requesting exhibit “We’ll Inherit the Earth“), to humbly will-whisper into existence a trialling accompanied by the following sentence: the original 1989 Don’t Tell a Soul is a better album. Period.

Your honours, isn’t this the part where we would take it upon ourselves to analyse and dissect individual clues to further cement and corroborate similar claims? Should we, though? Instead, one could surely begin with stressing out how no one involved in the conception of the record, from Paul himself to higher-ups at the label, was or is a foolish impulsive decision-maker actively pursuing a high-budget product’s kneecapping. Certainly, one has got to surrender their self-centrism and loosen their tie and trust the process here—yet perhaps more importantly embrace the notion that the band, its management, and the underlying business that supports and profits from it must’ve arrived at the decision to enrol Chris Lord-Alge on mixing duties carefully and considerably.

Yes, of course the irony of lining up signifiers such as management, business, and profit next to a band like The Replacements all in one sentence is not lost on us. Yet we humbly ask: has a sly and red herring-y knack for a dorky and naive smoke and mirrors facade not always been The Mats’ divisive modus operandi all along their blistering career? What if Dead Man’s Pop and its apparent long-overdue redemptive fanfare—finally cancelling alleged wrongs committed at the height of the group’s major label career—were all yet another sublime con-job sculpted by Paul and co. to mock industry and fanbase alike? What if we all chose to believe that the original version of this album is The Replacements’ second career act’s pièce de résistance? No matter the real answer—Mr Westerberg would not want us to tell a single soul anyway.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

SWISS INTERMISSION | 2021-07-18

Ceresio Lake water the best. 45.9863° N, 8.9700° E.

Create your own travel license here. Listen to Call Me If You Get Lost by Tyler, The Creator here.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

BIG WHATEVER | 2021-05-02

By the looks of it, this next one ahead of us is set to be a kaleidoscopic and densely chromatic summer. At the very least, as far as our musical forecast is concerned. You ask both alt-psych rock supergroup Fuckin Whatever and singer/songwriter Ryan Adams. Amidst recent notable music unveilings, including but not limited to Sir Paul McCartney, The Offspring, and The Blossom, it has emerged that the self-billed “Beach Boys for the nihilist TikTok generation” as well as the Pax Americana Recording Company-founder both saw fit to time the release of their respective highly anticipated forthcoming projects within a week-span from one another, dating early June. Incidentally, both the Taking Back Sunday, Circa Survive, and Grouplove-distilled quartet—composed of selected key members from each of the aforementioned original outfits and responding to a somewhat questionable name—and the American heartland rocker opted for an artistic inclination veered to design and portray their soon-to-be-unwrapped sonic tapestries through tints and tinges aplenty.

Counting Circa Survive’s and Saosin’s Anthony Green, Taking Back Sunday‘s Adam Lazzara and John Nolan, as well as additional percussion from Benjamin Homola of Grouplove amongst its ranks, Fuckin Whatever is a postmodern and analogue side-project gestated throughout longstanding kinships minted as part of the alternative/emo rock scene over the past two decades. The group’s debut self-titled five-cut extended play is out on 4th June on Philadelphia-based boutique imprint Born Losers Records, and features zero—yes, zero—electric or amplified instruments on tape. Co-frontman and Taking Back Sunday vocalist Lazzara clarifies how the record is instead made up of “[…] pretty much 80% mouth noises and 20% Ben slapping things around the house”, hence banking on rudimentary a cappella arrangements and visceral percussive rhythms to paint collective mental and spiritual landscapes made of rainbow-shaded rays and holographic skies.

It thus probably comes as no surprise that all three teasers dropped in anticipation to the full mind-bending gesamtkunstwerk dabble in pretty strong abstract, deconstructed, and psychedelic territory. This is perhaps best exemplified by their trippy and hallucinating lead single “Trash“—revealed to the public under purposefully elusive and mysterious circumstances in early February as part of a decisively understated roll out. Facts started to become clearer around the drop of the band’s second preview cut, coming by way of the funkier and more immediate groove-pop of “I’m Waiting On You“, about a month later. Fastforward to just weeks ago, the rather hippie and free-experimentation quartet—whose inception can be traced as far back as a remote USA parking lot during the 2016 Taste of Chaos tour—released what is poised to be the final taster before the full collection of tracks sees the multicoloured light of day: “Original Sin“. The record also marks the rated-R outfit’s official debut on licensed digital outlets (their first two songs were only made available through DIY platform Bandcamp in alignment to its Bandcamp Fridays initiative), showcasing an even more heightened songwriting sensibility in the guise of arguably the stickiest tune of the three.

On his part, former Whiskeytown-frontman and alt-rock prodigy Ryan Adams seems to have chosen to stick to dropping the reported trilogy of full length LPs he initially announced back in 2019 after all, albeit with a re-tooled roll out sequence. The first in the series, the unplugged-affine Wednesdays, whilst initially slated to be the second one after Big Colors, was actually already surprise-released this past December as the first instalment. Big Colors on the other hand, which was supposed to inaugurate the triplet body of work two years ago, has now officially been recycled and repurposed as what appears to be the principal creative statement of intent for the 46-year old poet, scheduled as second chapter with a worldwide street date pencilled in for 11th June (a third and final double album titled Chris is reported to drop later in the year). Clocking in at just below forty minutes of runtime and spanning twelve cuts in total, the project is shy of three songs that were initially announced to be sequenced on Big Colors when Adams first announced the saga (two of which, “Dreaming You Backwards” and “I’m Sorry and I Love You“, ended up making the cut on Wednesdays, which in turn saw its own tracklisting shrink from the original seventeen to just eleven).

On 23rd April, the hypnotic and ethereal “Do Not Disturb” got lifted from its second tracklisting position and used as first single off the upcoming studio full length by Adams and Pax Am. Standing as the eighteenth solo LP from the singer, the record is fiercely shaping up to employ a host of hazy, sun-soaked, and hollow color schemes in order to refract its outgoing tinctures through the lighthouse it was meant to act as in the first place. In the words of Ryan himself:

Big Colors is the soundtrack to a movie from 1984 that exists only in my soul. It’s a cliché inside a watercolor painting of neon blue smoke rising up off summer streets in the night.

It’s the most New York California album I could cut loose from my musical soul, and for me as both a guitar player and songwriter, this is the zenith point dream time.

While I won’t be able to match this album for its depth and broad color forms in the future, this is the sound of my soul and a door to a place I’ll be returning to again.

The treasures in our past are the shamanic visions of the future when the destination is dream zone 3000. This is that.

I’m only dreaming in Big Colors now.

The above excerpt is clearly paining a broad illustrative brush, though one can’t but rejoice over the blissful electric alignment of summer pigments and tones that both Big Colors and Fuckin Whatever are presently affording us to worship and adore. A radiant, glowing, and iridescent portal through which, all of a sudden, tracking the right mapping to one’s life wholesomeness does not seem too arduous and impenetrable anymore. These are budding creative fragments teaching us that colouring outside the lines is a purpose’s ultimate defiance—the only heightened and levitating cosmic field where black and white are declassed to archaic ends of a continuously superseded dialectic spectrum of movement, light, and electromagnetism. One that, instead, embraces the ultraviolet and the infrared as its lowest common denominators, and transfuses a brave new proto-sphere made of decaying palm trees, dour neon signs, and ephemeral sunsets culminating into a… big whatever one wants it to be.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): THE WAR ON DRUGS – OCEAN OF DARKNESS | 2020-12-01

Holy smokes I just can’t get over how breathtakingly perfect, laudably defiant, and effortlessly delivered this sound recording is. To every new song I am reviewing, either you get to Adam Granduciel-level or get the f*** out.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

THE WAR ON DRUGS

LIVE DRUGS

2020, Super High Quality

https://www.thewarondrugs.net/home

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): SMASHING PUMPKINS – CYR | 2020-11-19

What’s interesting about undergoing a premature album review as it pertains to the creative output of alternative rock legends Smashing Pumpkins is that one year one could be serviced with a complete album spanning eight cuts and clocking in at just over half an hour of runtime, whereas another (zany) year one could be serviced with just as many preview teasers for its follow up—which combined clock in at just over half an hour of runtime—and not even reach half of the pre-announced tracklist length for said very album. Just to make head and tails here, in 2018 Billy Corgan and co. unveiled their tenth official studio album Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun., comprising eight songs and recorded alongside producer royalty Rick Rubin at his swanky Shangri La studio in Malibu, California. Fast forward to two years and a global pandemic later and we find the American alt rockers announcing their follow-up LP CYR in form of a gnarly and improbable 20-track double album, slated for release on 27th November by Washington D.C. and Los Angeles-based indie imprint Sumerian Records.

Intended both in music and spirit to act as a successor to their previous aforementioned project, serving as the second instalment for the group’s ongoing Shiny and Oh So Bright series, CYR began to be teased during this past summer through a raft of mysterious SP countdown timers across the Interweb, which eventually led to the unboxing of synth-pop Ava Adore-ing lead single/title track “Cyr” (“Tangents vex the whorl / The void arrives then leaves / Returning, returning a kiss / For lovers built the dream“) as well as its attached garage/indie B-side “The Colour of Love“—the latter incidentally doubling as the grand record opener. Predictably, both numbers came with luscious accompanying music videos, which quickly grew to reveal a larger five-part cyber-psych animated series outing dubbed In Ashes, written and created by Billy Corgan himself and set to coincide with the ambitious album roll out. Speaking of which, at the time of writing this amounts to eight individual singles parsed out across four separate release slots, giving lucky and thirsty fans more than the average conventional taster amount ahead of the CYR’s complete unveiling. This brings us full circle to the notion of the present ‘perhaps-not-so-much’ premature evaluation of the full piece de resistance dropping at the end of the month.

Subsequently to the initial solid and convincing two-track combo unleashed at the end of August, SP saw fit to start dropping another double single at the end of September, this time in the guise of the sticky, kooky, and eccentric art-pop of “Confessions of a Dopamine Addict” on its A-side (“I’m down for bewitching trains / And cursed tower / The masts blackened / As windswept / Horizons ever sour / If it takes more to find you / Than setting out a fading sun“), as well as the nocturnal indie-synth sensibilities of the soft and tender “Wrath” on its back. Not content with the existing load, just a few weeks later throughout the month of October the Grammy Awards-winning goths chose to issue an additional two double-single bundles within the span of a couple weeks. Leading the streak was the raspy and gritty guitar-lead of “Anno Satana“—sporting arguably the most gratifying songwriting amongst the ongoing promotional eight-pack—counter-mirroring the more subdued and dejected yet adorable B-side “Birch Grove“. Lastly, and fittingly just in time for Halloween, the angelic and compositionally gelid flairs of alt-ballad “Ramona” graced the world’s airwaves with necessary respite vis-a-vis flip-side “Wyttch“‘s gruesome, abrasive, and bewildering spookiness (with a frightful official music video out on Friday 13th, no less)—marking the last and easily heaviest cut unveiled by the quartet in anticipation to CYR.

Any partial artistic inference made to the full LP on account of not even half of its total track count can’t forego the crucial monition of how—unlike for Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun. where Mr Rubin was given creative control of the production steering wheel—this record sees Smashing Pumpkins’ frontman Billy Corgan looking after any and all production duties. Nonetheless, and rightfully so considering the ongoing gelling conceptual album series, tracks such as the aforementioned “The Colour of Love”, “Anno Satana”, and “Wyttch” immediately seal a robust sonic continuum with its 2018 predecessor, both in terms of thematic focus and sound delivery. Whether completely intentional or not, one can only assume that at least a portion of that analogue, guitar-led, and driving percussive predicament entrenched in said cuts goes to distill some degree of the band’s true current musical ethos—not a bad thing in and of itself for it’s sounding rad. However, the crispier, cleaner, and glossier new wave synth processing found in flagship singles here, such as the title track, “Wrath”, and “Birch Grove”, hint at a possible return to more lavish late 90s aesthetics, albeit sans the compositional depth seen on Machina/The Machines of God.

While on the subject of studio arrangements and recorded instrumentation inklings, it’s probably worth reiterating that in 2020, aside from the aforementioned singer-honcho Billy Corgan, Smashing Pumpkins is Jimmy Chamberlin on drums, James Iha on lead guitar, and Jeff Schroeder on rhythm guitar—the former two doubling as reverting staples from the legendary original line-up that thrusted the group into international stardom and critical acclaim, back then completed by controversial absentee bassist D’arcy Wretzky. As expected, taping sessions for CYR saw existing members record stems on their respective instruments, whilst aside from synthesizers, additional guitars, vocals, and production duties, Mr Corgan also lied bass guitars to wax for the occasion (additional background vocals, significantly presents on a chunk of the eight promotional singles described above, come courtesy of Sierra Swan and existing Australian touring member Katie Cole). Judging by the hors d’oeuvre SP has served us hitherto, the suite of styles and sounds one is to expect from the full length appears fairly versatile on the ear, ranging from the foreboding distortion of “Wyttch” through to “Birch Grove”‘s culling and sparse caresses, emanating tenderness and endearment from its every musical pore.

With a whole other album’s worth of twelve records off CYR still to be released, and more than half of the projected 72 minutes of runtime left to nothing more than the listeners’ imagination, any definitive appraisal of this album at this point would be reductive at best. Add Mr Corgan’s inherent unpredictability and—for a sincere lack of a better term—creative weirdness on top of the equation, and one soon realises that any judgement bestowed one week away from the album’s street date is as reliable as the next person’s. Truly and honestly though, based off this sample of tracks, CYR does not seem to sport the same oomph, pizazz, compression, and dare I say it even catchiness found throughout Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to be stood corrected here once all twenty songs hit the digital streaming shelves and each and every one of these promotional cuts can be savoured within the context of the full conceptual journey, but for as slept-on and underrated the inaugural instalment of the Shiny and Oh So Bright trilogy still is, it’s also proven to have aged robustly well despite—or perhaps precisely because of—being devoid of much promotional bells and whistles fanfare.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

SMASHING PUMPKINS

CYR

2020, Sumerian Records

https://smashingpumpkins.com

LETTER TO BRUCE | 2020-10-31

The below text was originally submitted as part of Bruce Springsteen‘s Letter to Bruce online fan engagement campaign. This is the full published excerpt with no edits or alterations:

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

BLM | 2020-05-31

 

Consider making a financial donation to the following organisations:

NAACP Legal Defense Fund: naacpldf.org

Black Lives Matter: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/ms_blm_homepage_2019

Black Voters Matter Fund: blackvotersmatterfund.org

Know Your Rights Camp: knowyourrightscamp.com

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): FAKE NAMES – FAKE NAMES | 2020-05-21

Fortuity, spontaneity, and intuition might not be your conventional attributes used to portray the causational origin behind a significant new supergroup, let alone in nowadays’ hypernormalized times—yet as far as recent Epitaph Records-signees Fake Names are concerned, those might just be the utmost apt ones. The American-Swedish quartet is composed of gargantuan Washington D.C. punk rock mainstays Brian Baker (of Minor Threat and Bad Religion fame) and Michael Hampton (S.O.A., Embrace, One Last Wish), who linked up in 2016 initially simply to jam and mess around with one another, without any thought furthering anything more than that. However, after they swiftly realised that their songwriting process and output yield was appearing to be flowing way more smoothly than expected, they landed on the temptation of putting an actual outfit together. So that’s how they figured they’d call up radical Johnny Temple from Girls Against Boys and Soulside, whom they knew from elementary school, and by their own admission seamlessly fit right in with their passion for what the bassist refers to as “loud, angry, visceral music”. One practice and writing session led to another, and by the end of the year the new formed punk Mount Rushmore enlisted iconic Refused frontman Dennis Lyxzén on rage-fuelled vocal duties, thanks to a serendipitous run-in at the same year’s Riot Fest edition in Chicago.

After a socially-distanced record crafting gestation lasting several years, before social-distancing became trendy and en vogue, the foursome saw fit to drop their self-titled debut LP Fake Names on 8th May—their alias doubling as a nod to both 1987 American crime comedy picture Raising Arizona and the relentless proliferation of false news items and statements, equal courtesy of both FAANG and Donald Trump. Allegedly recorded analogue and directly to tape in New York, and enjoying a little help from their friends Geoff Sanoff (A Perfect Circle, Jawbox) on production and Matt Schulz on drums and percussions performances, Fake Names is a straight-as-an-arrow, concise, and cohesive collection of ten meat-and-potatoes numbers clocking in just shy of half an hour. The album and ancillary band announcement were previewed with the insurrectionary blistering sing-along anthem “Brick“, unveiled to the whole wide world at the end of March in the heat of a full C-19 pandemic mode. The galloping and unnerved stunner barely reaches two minutes of runtime, yet manages to pack in it voracious lyrical content (“Took down the names of everyone in my little red book / Here comes revenge for everything that you ever took / Shots heard all around the world yeah you’re gonna bleed / Ever seen the face of revolution? It looks like me“), fiery distorted guitar play, and an exhilaratingly catchy refrain.

This project’s lead single acquires an even heightened sense of purpose when taken in context with the full track listing, sequenced as it is at number four between album highlight “Being Them“—a superior slice of garage rock-meets-power pop where Lyxzén proves just how he hasn’t skipped a beat when it comes to penning infectious hooks since his early Refused days—and the pensive, reflective tormented croonerisms of “Darkest Days” (“Here we storm into the darkest times / Stole our souls then they drained our minds / An epidemic of stupidity / Let us here left us all to bleed“). Other distilled examples of tracks furthering the self-proclaimed and actively sought-after objective of producing and recording straight to tape, without the help of guitar pedals or any manipulated sound effects (Fake Names go as far as making sure every song on the LP is credited as having “No synthesizers”), are groovy and visceral album opener “All For Sale” as well as its correlated ostracised hymn for the disenfranchised “Heavy Feather“, belonging at number six to the crop of songs on the shorter end of the runtime spectrum.

While both Baker and Hampton provide luscious and compelling backing vocal harmonies to Lyxzén’s biting and soar laments pretty much throughout this whole thing—incidentally lending that poppier flair that so strongly trademarked their previous pivotal scene bands in spite of their abrasive hardcore wrapping—two understated standouts portraying such functional texturing are both “Driver” at number two on the tracklist and the badass “Weight“. The latter so wonderfully underlines the overbearing six-strings chemistry between the two punk legends. In fact, the undeniable magic spellbound by Baker and Hampton and their instrumental dialectic in the studio had the group very aware they were in the midst of witnessing something nothing short of historical—sitting on the decades of influential dues paid by the two guitarists in the American hardcore punk scene. So bassist Temple on this fellow bandmates’ collaboration: “It’s two lead guitar players who really know how to work together, with such an incredibly fluid meshing of their individual styles, and there’s never a moment where they’re competing over who’s playing the catchiest riff. I’ve never seen a hint of anything like that before”.

For better or worse, Fake Names’ conscious decision to refrain from any audio-enhancing techniques employment in delivering their no-frills true blue punk rock directness and pathos does show through in multiple occasions on the full length, at times rendering the overall mix a tad too thin and bare bone for its own good. This can be experienced on the nonetheless adult alternative radio-friendly penultimate cut “This Is Nothing“, doubtlessly one of the lulls on this thing alongside formulaic frenetic LP closer “Lost Cause“, showcasing some of Lyxzén’s most uninspired and underwhelming pen game in recent memory: “Some kind / Some kind of violence / Something sacred something pure / Some kind / Some kind of wonder / Everything we’ve waited for / Hold on / Gotta hold on to this lost cause“. At the same time, it’s not like this back-to-basics sonic mantra is anything new for punk rock, and while the broader heavier music canon struggles to desperately try to re-invent itself via foreign electronic sounds and aimless genre crossovers amidst a wrenching existential crisis that displaced it afar from influential mainstream conversations, to much of critics’ dismay, Fake Names rely on elevating the inherent importance of each tape-tracked instrument, demanding listeners to pay a little bit closer attention to the final master. Not a bad trick for someone conveying not-so-disguised leftist prophecies and anti-capitalist sermons set to enthralling distortion.

It’s exactly this matter-of-factly demeanour and the singular way this music carries itself throughout its 28 minutes that make Lyxzén and co stand out, not only when compared to the overboard and exaggerated fringes of alternative music acts hopelessly engaging in loudness wars today, but also when placed shoulder-to-shoulder with their insular punk rock genre contemporaries. To this end, the Swedish frontman is not shy in highlighting the complete absence of spin doctoring that has driven the band since their inception in 2016: “A lot of times with bands there’s an agenda, and people often have very different ideas on what you need to do to succeed. But with this band there’s no agenda at all: it’s a project completely driven by lust for the music, and the simple fact that we just truly love playing together”. Raging against late stage-capitalism and diminishing returns has never sounded so catchy.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

FAKE NAMES

FAKE NAMES

2020, Epitaph

http://epitaph.com/artists/fake-names

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